x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Experts fire up motor on Iran nuclear deal

Technical experts from Iran, six world powers and the United Nations' atomic watchdog meet to negotiate the details to implement last month's landmark nuclear deal. Michael Theodoulou reports

Technical experts from Iran, six world powers and the United Nations’ atomic watchdog met on Monday in Vienna to thrash out the details of implementing last month’s landmark nuclear deal.

The two-day meeting will focus on pinning down the start of a six-month interim deal meant to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, how it will be monitored, and when sanctions will be eased. Iranian officials have said they expect the implementation of the so-called Joint Plan of Action to begin “either at the end of December or the beginning of January”.

Iran on Sunday allowed inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit its heavy water production plant at Arak for the first time in more than two years under a separate but related deal reached with the agency.

Western powers fear that the facility, some 300 kilometres south of Tehran, could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Under the interim deal, Iran has agreed not to fuel the Arak reactor during the next six months.

Meanwhile, the US president, Barack Obama, acknowledged for the first time on Saturday that Iran could be granted international approval to enrich uranium to low levels, provided it satisfied concerns about its nuclear programme and agreed to intrusive monitoring.

It would be preferable if Iran “eliminated every single nut and bolt of their nuclear programme”, he said, “but that particular option is not available”.

Mr Obama rejected arguments by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that threats of war and stricter sanctions would force Iran to capitulate on its nuclear ambitions.

Iranians across the political spectrum are going to insist on an outcome that provides them a “dignified resolution”, including retaining parts of the current programme, Mr Obama said.

Similarly, his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, made clear in a speech at the weekend that Tehran would have to make concessions to secure a beneficial deal. He pledged that Iran’s centrifuges would continue to spin but insisted he was also duty bound to improve the livelihoods of ordinary Iranians by breaking “oppressive sanctions”.

Under the interim deal struck in Geneva last month, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment to the 5 per cent level required for civilian power plants. It also agreed to dilute its entire supply of 20 per cent enriched uranium, which is a major concern in the West because it is a short technological leap to producing weapons-grade fissile material of more than 90 per cent.

That means Iran – which insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful – cannot advance its capabilities for building a bomb while negotiations on a final deal take place over the next six months.

In return the six world powers – the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – agreed to some $7 billion (Dh26bn) worth of temporary and reversible sanctions relief.

mtheodoulou@thenational.ae